MPs voted to delay Brexit beyond the scheduled date of March 29 amid dramatic scenes in the House of Commons on Thursday.
The vote came after Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was rejected for the second time on Tuesday and MPs voted the following day to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
A motion in Mrs May’s name, authorising the Prime Minister to request an extension to the two-year Article 50 negotiation process, was passed by 413 votes to 202 – a majority of 210.
Only a refusal by the leaders of the 27 remaining EU states to grant the UK an extension at a Brussels summit next week could now preserve the totemic date of March 29 as Brexit Day.
Mrs May has made clear that she hopes to bring her Agreement back to the Commons by March 20 in the hope of securing the support of MPs who rejected it by 230 votes in January and 149 earlier this week. Aides declined to name a date for the third “meaningful vote”.
If she succeeds, she will go to Brussels next Thursday to request a short delay to a date no later than June 30, to give herself time to pass legislative changes necessarily for a smooth and orderly Brexit.
But if her deal is rejected for a third time, she believes any extension would have to be far longer and would involve the UK taking part in European Parliament elections in May.
Cabinet Office minister David Lidington told MPs that in this case, the UK Government would stage two weeks of debate following the March 21-22 summit for the Commons to try to establish a majority around a different plan.
European Council president Donald Tusk has indicated that the EU may be ready to offer a lengthy extension to negotiations if the UK wants to “rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it”.
But any extension must be approved unanimously by the EU27, and Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl said there could be “some problem” in obtaining this if it took Brexit beyond the date of elections.
A spokesman for the European Commission said it “takes note of tonight’s votes”, adding that president Jean-Claude Juncker was “in constant contact with all leaders”.
In Gibraltar, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the latest developments in the Commons did little to clarify what the final outcome of Brexit would be.
“We are now headed for a re-run of ‘Meaningful Vote 3’ [on Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement] which can lead to leaving in a managed or orderly manner or the potential for a much lengthier delay,” he told the Chronicle.
“Remaining and leaving are therefore both still just as likely probable outcomes.”
“We would all prefer to remain, but if we are to leave, involuntarily, we should do so on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement that has Gibraltar protections built into it.”
“We must continue to plan for all eventualities including a no-deal Brexit which is now, thankfully, less likely than it was at the beginning of this week.”
“As the political vertigo continues in London, we will continue to calmly prepare Gibraltar in order to ensure there is as little disruption as possible in every possible permutation we may face in coming weeks and months.”
Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the GSD, said the latest developments in Westminster highlighted how difficult it was proving for MPs to find a consensus on how to unblock the current impasse.
“The vote to seek an extension to Article 50 in certain circumstances is welcome although it will also lead to the rather bizarre spectacle of Mrs May putting her Withdrawal Agreement to the UK Parliament for a third time,” he said.
“It reminds me of the quote that history repeats itself – first as tragedy and then as farce.”
“How can Mrs May say that it is undemocratic to ask the British people to unblock the deadlock by a second referendum if she is prepared to ask Parliament three or four times to approve her bad rejected deal because she does not like the original result?”
“From Gibraltar’s perspective we must continue to plan for all scenarios because how this will all end remains unclear.”
Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon, who leads Together Gibraltar, warned that it was still too soon to draw any comfort from the latest developments in the Commons.
“It is encouraging to see at least the seeking of an extension being agreed, but it’s by no means a given, so our position is still extremely precarious,” she said.
“In the meantime, it’s disappointing to see that a people’s vote has been voted against, although it’s our understanding that it was an issue of timing and not an issue of lack of support, meaning it remains a possibility.”